Developmental exposure to heavy metals alters visually-guided behaviors in zebrafish
This laboratory-based study determined the consequences of heavy metal exposure using zebrafish Danio rerio. Embryos were transiently exposed to environmentally-relevant concentrations of cadmium or nickel until 72 h postfertilization (hpf), then they were returned to system water and allowed to grow until 7, 9, and 11 days postfertilization (dpf), when they were examined morphologically and behaviorally. Morphological measures of notochord length, eye diameter, and intereye distance were not different across treatments; however, significant differences in optomotor responses were observed in treated larvae at all ages tested. These results suggest that initial developmental exposure to cadmium and nickel significantly impacts visually-guided larval behavior. The absence of significant differences in gross morphology suggests that the effects of these metals are subtle and may occur at the cellular level. By using this ecologically relevant model and pollutant type, this study has broad application and implications with regard to safe levels of contaminant in drinking water and freshwater ecosystems.